A while back we had a visit from some of Blowfish's NY cousins. Cousin "Elizabeth" is a person prone to busyness with her camera. In fact she went from room to room in the Pond house taking photographs for show and tell once she got home. Cousin Elizabeth swears she never has an original idea when it comes to the look of her home. She wanted to record things in our home in hopes of importing some of them to hers. The Pond house is lovely, but just like the cobbler's children have no shoes.... the designer's house is short on design. The highlighted difference in this visit was Cousin Elizabeth saw all things positive while I saw all the things needing attention. Or money. Or both.
During the course of this visit it somehow came to be that I should create a Christmas wreath for the cousins. I think I did see their house, briefly, about 30 years ago. Frankly I cannot remember a thing that would give me a clue about what sort of colors or themes, etc. Also, if I know I am going to be making one of a kind wreaths, swags, topiaries or trees I go off to the design markets and fetch the components. I was sort of thinking I would have great "leftovers" from the Hospice Tree for use on the wreath but as it turns out, I did not.
So I went forth to the local retail sources to see what I could find to make a beautiful gift for these cousins. Since it is less than 2 weeks til Christmas the pickins were slim. I felt more like I was on a scavenger hunt than a focused mission. I actually started out with an idea about the theme I wanted to portray but the reality was no such components were available. I next had to choose between not making the gift with a promise to make one next year or, to come up with a new idea based on what was available to me in the here and now. Since I knew Blowfish was excited about my creating a one of a kind gift for his cousins, I felt a bit of pressure to deliver.
I swear it is no exaggeration when I say I was in that store for more than 2 hours. Long enough to hear the Christmas music cycle around three times. The store had already started the after holiday store reset with lots of aisles given over to Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day and Spring. This meant all the remaining holiday inventory had been smushed into just a few close out aisles. Then too, I foolishly went on a Saturday. The aisles were packed with parents and children trying to find deals on holiday decor or single ornaments for teacher gifts. So not only were quantities and varieties limited but the conditions were reminiscent of the gridiron lineups. Maybe even the gridiron pileups. Not my thing, not my thing at all.
Eventually I ferreted out enough stuff to maybe create something good , not generic. Unfortunately I found it was going to be necessary to stop at yet another retailer before I could go home and get in my studio to produce. I needed to look for one more item in one of those stores which is part fabric store, part crafts store, part mass produced Chinese trash decor store. I bet I don't set foot in this place once every 3 years, which is a bit too often for me.
I was making my way down the main aisle to the section I needed to visit when my peripheral vision picked up on something which made me stop in my tracks. It was nothing major, just a bolt of fabric. But that fabric transported me back a few decades to visions of my Mama sewing amazing creations. Long years before the crippling arthritis robbed her of the pleasure of sewing. Of her pleasure it magically transforming simple components into something wonderous.
Like many of her generation she could sew for her home; curtains, bedskirts, placemats and napkins. She could sew for her girls, for school plays, for Halloween costumes and, she could do all of those while seeing to the needs of a litter of kids , a largish household and with a mostly absent spouse. She was not one of those moms known for her baking skills or her housekeeping.. She was widely admired for her creative thinking and her immense sewing talent.
One summer she was going to accompany our Dad to an annual sales convention where she would need eveningwear for five consecutive nights. Once it was determined they both would go on this trip our Mama started fetching home the latest issues of Vogue, Bazaar, and any other fashion journal of the day. Soon her little sewing corner was cluttered with inspirational reference taped up on the wall. Beautiful photographs from the publications, some of her own sketches and eventually little fabric swatches were added to the collage. Next , I kid you not, she cut open the brown paper bags from the grocers, ironed them smooth so she could begin making her patterns. Amazing.
As a teen, I thought this was interesting. I enjoyed seeing the progress of her thinking up on that wall. I liked seeing her evaluate combinations of face fabrics , linings, trims, beads, bugles, sequins, buttons, zippers, threads. There was quite the play on textures, colors, weight and a great variation between severely tailored and floaty feminine looks. I sometimes would go with her to the stores where she would have tucked into her purse the final sketches and the swatches to reference against shoes, evening bags, gloves and the costume jewelry of the day.
Eventually an entire collection was created. It was awe inspiring. I could not believe my Mama had produced custom clothing that rivaled, or trumped, the designer collections in the Vogues and Bazaars. But she did. I so clearly remember the day she completed her tasks. I came home to discover each dress layed out with shoes, bag, gloves, jewelry. I went from ensemble to ensemble lightly tracing my fingers along the fabrics, picking up items for closer inspection and feeling a bit stunned by what my mother had achieved. I would consider it my prize possession if today I had a scrapbook with those sketches, fabric swatches and paper bag patterns.
So back to the aisle in the store. There was a bolt of fabric which looked an awful lot like my memory of one of the selections from Mama's evening wear collection. It really did stop me in my tracks, to the point others bumped into or navigated around me with that look meaning get out of the way. But I was seeing visions of my Mama, young, eager, busy, enthusiased, chock full of nervous excitement and purpose. Those days are long gone. What is not gone is the lasting influence this episode of my mother's life has had in my life.
For me, that bolt of fabric clearly demonstrated my bad attitude. Where was that can do spirit of my mother? Where was the eagerness to face a creative challenge? Where was my faith in my ability to use the gifts I have for good purpose? I looked down at my straight fingers, my functioning hands and felt true shame. One thing is for certain. Cousin Elizabeth's wreath might evolve from ordinary sources, but the end result will be extraordinary.
I can do no less and keep honor with my mother's teachings.